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Native women chant outside the court house in Vancouver, British Columbia March 30, 2009. The women where there as defense and prosecution lawyers were in court during an appeal in the case of serial killer Robert Pickton. (Andy Clark/Andy Clark/Reuters)
Native women chant outside the court house in Vancouver, British Columbia March 30, 2009. The women where there as defense and prosecution lawyers were in court during an appeal in the case of serial killer Robert Pickton. (Andy Clark/Andy Clark/Reuters)

Natives, rights groups renew call for inquiry into Pickton case Add to ...

More than a year after Robert William Pickton was convicted of six counts of murder, British Columbia's top native leaders and the civil liberties association are calling for a public inquiry into the police handling of the still-controversial case.

They said police in Vancouver must account for the way they treated the disappearances of dozens of women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. And the RCMP must answer for their handling of 18 missing women from the western stretch of Highway 16 in northern B.C., dubbed the Highway of Tears.

Critics have long charged that police didn't treat these missing women's cases seriously because many - at least in the Downtown Eastside - were prostitutes and drug addicts or both. Others were aboriginal.

"I don't think the whole story has come out," said David Eby of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. "The police have some explaining to do to the public."

Time is of the essence, Mr. Eby said, if a provincial inquiry is to be effective. Memories fade and key police investigators who were involved in the missing Vancouver women's files have moved on or retired.

Meanwhile, families of the murder victims say they, too, want answers. Mr. Pickton was eventually arrested in 2002, but women began vanishing from the Downtown Eastside in droves in the mid-1990s.

Families accused Vancouver police of ignoring their disappearances because they were marginalized women. For years, police only had a couple of missing persons investigators on the case and never publicly warned that a serial killer might be on the loose.

Maggie DeVries's sister, Sarah, vanished in April of 1998. Ms. DeVries reported her sister missing a week later. She said Vancouver police did not treat her sister's disappearance seriously. Sarah DeVries's DNA was found in 2002 at Mr. Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam, outside Vancouver.

"So many problems need to be answered," Ms. DeVries said, namely: why wasn't more money poured into the investigation? And why did police resist the notion that the missing women's cases were linked?

After Mr. Pickton's multiple murder trial ended in 2007, B.C.'s Attorney-General, Wally Oppal, told families of victims that the government wouldn't consider a public inquiry until Mr. Pickton had exhausted all his appeals.

He was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder. He is charged with another 20 counts of first-degree murder. But Mr. Oppal has said that trial won't go ahead unless his first six convictions are overturned.

With Mr. Pickton's appeal scheduled to begin at the end of the month, Mr. Eby said the groups are renewing their demand for an inquiry because they fear the criminal case could be tied up in the courts for years to come.

Mr. Pickton is serving life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. The Crown and defence both filed for appeals of the conviction.

The Crown is appealing the jury's acquittal of Mr. Pickton on first-degree murder charges, and the trial judge's decision to divide the original 26 murder charges against Mr. Pickton into two trials, one of six counts and another of 20.

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